Story by: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson
Posted: April 26, 2015
DISASTER CITY, Texas - The “Galveston Hurricane.” Celia. Rita. Katrina. Ike. All of them were large-scale, deadly Atlantic hurricanes that touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of Texans; many of them triggering disaster responses across multiple military and civilian agencies to care for the communities in harm's way.
As the start of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season approaches, the Texas Guardsmen of Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) capitalized on the chance to work with other military and civilian agencies during their annual training in Austin, Camp Swift, and Disaster City, April 19-25. The nine-day training period was the latest in a long line of exercises to build partnerships and skills to help more Texas communities survive another hurricane season.
Soldiers and Airmen transitioned from home station armories to a field environment, testing their response time and mobility capabilities. By responding to a full scale "disaster" and deploying their suite of life-saving capabilities both civilian and military responders got the opportunity to truly see what each other agency was capable of.
The National Guard outfit, also called the “Minuteman Brigade,” is the custodian of the Federal Emergency Management Agency homeland response force mission for FEMA Region VI, supporting local, state and federal assets throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. This mission means the Round Rock-based unit can, and does, partner with agencies from all over the region and country.
"This is great preparation for hurricane season. It really exercises the complex nature of a large-scale disaster," said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commander for the Texas Military Forces’ Domestic Operations Task Force. "There are numerous inter-agency partners here. For some, it's the first time they've seen what we do."
“Mobilized” at the request of the governor and local civil authorities as “Hurricane Matthias” barreled down on Houston, the troops refined their life-saving techniques and improved inter-agency communication, ensuring that if disaster strikes, all support elements will be prepared to integrate seamlessly with units and personnel outside of the Texas Military Forces.
“It’s just so great for our Soldiers and our Airmen to get a chance to work with all of those different entities that they would see in a real world situation,” said Col. Lee Schnell, the commander for JTF-136 (MEB).
Saturday, April 25, was the day for the Guardsmen to truly stretch their legs. Some worked with Texas Urban Search and Rescue to search for and extract casualties, while others went deep under collapsing structures to share shoring and rigging techniques with the Texas Task Force 1 structures crew. Experts from Texas A&M Veterinary School passed along canine decontamination procedures while medical teams practiced triage and treatment on a variety of “wounds.”
According to Texas A&M Engineering Extension service, the agency in charge of Disaster City, more than 900 personnel took part in the exercise. These first responders were in turn supported by the 560 members of the Minuteman Brigade, bringing specialized military capabilities to the overall lifesaving efforts.
“In this particular scenario, really one of the highlights is working with our civilian first responder partners,” said Schnell. “Wednesday, we worked with Austin Fire Department, Williamson County Hazmat, Austin Hazmat, Austin Fire Department, Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, and on Saturday, we got a chance to work with the Texas and Utah Urban Search and Rescue team.”
At the end of the day, the depth of knowledge gained by hands-on time with diverse partners allows everyone involved to better serve their communities and fellow Texans.
"Working with the Texas National Guard is one of the best parts of my job,” said Brett Dixon, TX-TF1, Helicopter Search and Rescue Program manager. “We all have a genuine shared interest in helping the citizens of Texas."